I have to admit that it was NOT easy at first gardening with chickens in small yard, but it is definitely doable. My garden has changed a lot of over the last year having had chickens, however, most areas of my garden have never looked better. Despite the hassles, I now will ALWAYS have a few chickens in my garden to help me. The benefits far outweigh the problems. If you are willing to take a few extra steps to make them and you happy, a garden and chickens can peacefully coexist. And on the flip side, if you are lazy about garden chores or making adjustments, they might ruin your yard and patio within a matter of months.
Here are some things that I do (or can be done) to have a nice garden with chickens:
- Place portable fencing around the areas that seedlings are coming up, then remove it once they are big enough not to be destroyed by a scratching chicken.
- Regularly clean up droppings with a poop scoop or hose in them into the grass.
- Place permanent fencing around the vegetable garden
- Secure chicken wire flat on the ground around the root zone of young plants until they are firmly established.
- Plant more things chickens don’t like to eat. ( my chicken resistant plant list)
- Keep heavier breeds (like Orpingtons, Cochins, or Bramhas) so they can’t go over lower fencing as easily. My Bantam Cochins can’t go over the fencing very well either.
- Keep Bantams, especially Cochins. Short Feathered legs and feet do less damage. And with Cochins, I get a steady supply of fair sized eggs at about 1.3 to 1.5 oz each, unlike some of the other breeds. The only downside for some people is cochins go broody often. That’s usually not a downside to me.
- Build as big of run as you can so they don’t have to go out in the yard as much during the day or as often.
- Don’t get more hens than you really need.
- Keep them in a movable tractor or other adjustable pen (with netting to protect them from predators.)
- Plant more shrubs and perennials.
- Avoid or use less fragile annuals.
- Plant things that grow really fast like nasturtium or grapes.
- Choose breeds with feathered feet so they scratch less (but they do still scratch some.)
- And make sure your coop is attractive and fits into the style of your garden so you love looking at it!
Problems with having chickens in a garden:
- They love grapes and will jump as high as they can to get them. Fortunately most are on tall arbors, and there is still plenty for us up high. They clean up any fallen ones nicely!
- They will eventually poop on the driveway or patio if out a long period of time.
- The big breeds scratch the mulch onto the grass, and it needs to be raked in back in before mowing.
- They wake up early.
- There is more work to keep the areas the family uses clean so no one walks in chicken poop.
- We have to always make sure all gates are kept closed so no stray dogs get in, and no chickens get out.
- I have to practice biosecurity when my chicken keeping friends come to visit or I come home from the feed store. Usually this involves stepping shoes in a disinfecting solution or changing to designated backyard shoes before going outside. I think hospital booties could be used to cover shoes, too.
Benefits of chickens in my garden:
- I have the greenest lawn ever!
- There are few to no weeds to pull under my trees or in my flowers beds anymore.
- My compost is fabulous.
- The chickens eat all the fruit beetle grubs, earwigs, crickets, and grasshoppers, and even a few spiders.
- One of my chickens occasionally eats my slugs and snails (but I still have a few)
- They clean up under my micro orchard and grape vines, preventing pest life cycles from getting established and damaging my apples and stone fruits.
- They fluff the mulch and keep the soil friable in the beds.
- They deposit droppings throughout the yard helping to fertilize. I have not had any major problems with plants showing signs of burning from the high nitrogen content in the droppings because it is widely distributed throughout the yard by only a few chickens, not a giant flock.
- They help clean out the vegetable garden of bugs at the end of each season when I let them in.
*Post updated in May, 2011